Covid-NYC: Claire Sprouse of Hunky Dory

By Claire Sprouse of Hunky Dory


Claire Sprouse of Hunky Dory
Bartender Claire Sprouse of Hunky Dory
Bartender Claire Sprouse of Hunky Dory


We have a plan for the dining room which we will slowly start to roll out. It will be different for the rest of 2020. We’ll also be converting the windows so we can sell out of them. Before all this, we had just gotten a soft serve machine and all kinds of interesting coffees. Those will be cool to serve windowside. 

I let my staff go on March 15th, so it’s just me. I do everything. It would be really helpful if I knew how to cook. We’ve mostly been sticking to cocktails and some snack packs with our Hunky jams, some seasonings—things that are premade. And we’re doing some food pop-ups. Our chef and sous chef are committed to coming back, and we’ll probably end up bringing back about 30 percent of our staff. A lot of our staff ended up moving. They lost their apartments and went back to their family homes—which I understand. There’s no point in coming back to an expensive city when there’ll be fewer jobs.


Reality has started setting in for our landlord, especially with the new small business relief package de Blasio signed, which removes our personal guarantees from our landlord commitments. It gives our industry a lot more leverage. I recognize there’s only so much wiggle room on his end, so we’re working together. He’s offered the empty lot next to us for outside seating. I just received my PPP loan, so I’ll be able to pay rent in full for the next few months. Cocktail sales have been generally good, so as of today all of our invoices are completely cleared. 


I feel more at ease when I channel my anxiety into productivity. I’ve been working on maintaining my relationships with my staff, and I read a lot for my other projects. One project I’ve been able to take off the back burner is rooted in sustainability. I’ve been working on a series of three cocktail books about utilizing food waste, of which I’ve released the first. The recipes come from bartenders around the country, and proceeds go to their staff funds or undocumented worker funds. Volume one is called Optimistic Cocktails, and is meant to inspire people to appreciate the risk and effort that goes into bringing our food to customers right now, as well as to create new flavors and not think about food waste as trash or inferior products. I’ve also been jump roping a lot. It’s a great quarantine activity because you can do it by yourself in your house, on your roof, or in the park on a hidden path. 


I’m working on a community mapping project for Crown Heights, [where Hunky Dory is located]. The idea is to connect the people of Crown Heights to local businesses. Each business will have a profile and a little blurb about the owners, to put a face to the business, and links to hours and other information. It won’t only be restaurants and bars, it will be tax preparers, barber shops, doctor's offices etc. We have so many great small businesses here. I was able to connect with a woman who runs a nonprofit that teaches women tech skills in an effort to diversify the tech world, and they are helping me with this project. I’m hoping this can build up the strength of our community.

I don’t come to Hunky every day, like I thought I would. While it’s nice to have this extra space, it’s a little depressing. It’s lonely and there is still a lot to do here. When I am here, people in the neighborhood would wave to me and blow kisses. They really care about this place. I have to make sure that this [show of support] doesn’t blind me into making the wrong decision. I want to give back, but there are the realities of the situation. There is so much that is out of my hands. I just don’t expect people to be going out to eat and drink for a long time, and I don't want to put our staff at risk in any way. We’ll try to fight the good fight and go from there. 


Hunky will be getting rid of tipping. We’re redoing our pay structure so everyone will be paid more equitably, closing the pay gap between FOH and BOH. Our menu pricing will be reflective of their value. I admit it will be an uphill battle, but it doesn't feel good to move forward without [restructuring for pay equity]. We’re always trying to find ways to make our staff feel more fulfilled. Businesses are going to have to raise their prices and start being more transparent about the cost of food [and labor]. With fewer people and less money going around, those things will need to come together. 

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